Austin360 will be posting dispatches from Austin singer-songwriter Gina Chavez and her band as they tour through Jordan. The full band – which includes Michael Romero, Brad Johnston, Jerry Ronquillo, Kenneth Null, and Mike Meadows – will give us insights into what it’s like for an Austin band to perform, lead workshops and collaborate with local artists in Jordan.
Drummer Mike Meadows enjoyed kanafeh and other sweet treats from Jordan while on tour with Gina Chavez.
BY MIKE MEADOWS
One of my favorite things about touring is getting to experience the culture, history, and cuisine of the places I’m fortunate enough to travel to. Jordan is certainly no exception. We have been welcomed here with open arms and have had some pretty amazing cultural exchanges. We’ve collaborated musically with some of Jordan’s finest musicians and we’ve seen some awe-inspiring and important historical sights.
MORE TOUR DIARY ENTRIES: Gina Chavez Middle East Tour Diary
For those that know me though, I have a serious affinity for food, especially dessert. I suppose you could call me a foodie. One glance at my Instagram and you’ll see that drums and food are my passions.
In my experience, one of the quickest ways to make friends in new locales is by sharing meals together and trying the local cuisine. With my insatiable sweet tooth in mind, some of my favorite food discoveries on this tour were Jordan almonds, om ali, and kanafeh.
The first night in Amman, we discovered a store that specialized in Jordan almonds. I had never made the connection that perhaps Jordan almonds actually came from this country. Although their origin story is disputed, I like to believe the version that says they originated from the Jordan River Valley. The ones we tried our second day in Amman were both the most delicious and ornate Jordan almonds I’ve ever tasted.
Further south in Petra, we discovered om ali, a dessert with an auspicious history. Om Ali is best described as an indulgent bread pudding, made of puff pastry, milk, nuts, and honey. Legend has it that Om Ali was the first wife of a ruler from the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt called Ezz El-Din Aybek. Her rival was the second wife of the ruler. After the ruler’s death, the rival wife arranged for the death of Om Ali, and told the cooks to come up with the most delicious dessert they could create, to distribute to all of Egypt. This most delicious dessert was the bread pudding recipe, which has since become known as om ali or “Mother of Ali.”
Everywhere we went in Jordan, people told us we must try kanafeh. Finally, in the port city of Aqaba, we were taken to a place that specialized in the cheese pastry, which is soaked in a sugar-based syrup and covered in shredded wheat. It’s prepared above a bed of hot coals and served warm, often topped with pistachios or other nuts. I must say it lived up to the hype!
It was not only the delicious flavor of these desserts, but the generous and hospitable nature of our new Jordanian friends that I found to be so inspiring. I truly hope to someday return to this magical place!